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,2                                                                                                      B. POLEVOI
The forest hummed with faint sounds. The resinous
tree stump smouldered, giving off a mild, fragrant smoke
that reminded Alexei of incense. The small flames
flickered, now burning brightly, now dying down, causing
the trunks of the golden pines and silvery birches to stand
out in a circle of light and then to recede into the
murmuring gloom.
Alexei threw some more brushwood on the fire and
shelled some more cones. The smell of cedar^ oil ^re-
called to his mind a long-forgotten scene of his child-
hood___A small room crowded with familiar objects.
The table under the lamp hanging from the ceiling. His
mother, in holiday attire, just returned from vespers,
solemnly taking a paper bag from the chest and emptying
cedar nuts from it into a bowl. The whole family—
Mother, Grandmother, his two brothers and himself, the
youngest of all—sitting round the table and the solemn
shelling of cedar nuts—the holiday luxury—beginning.
Nobody uttered a word. Grandmother pried the kernels
out with a hairpin, Mother did the same with a pin. She
skilfully cracked the shells with her teeth, extracted the
kernels and collected them on the table; and when she
had quite a heap, she swept them into the palm of her
hand and put the lot into the open mouth of one of the
children; and the fortunate one felt her hand against his
lips; it was rough and toil-worn, but this being a holiday,
it smelt of scented soap.
Kamyshin ... childhood! It was cosy living in that
tiny house on the outskirts of the town! ... But here,
amidst the noises of the forest, your face is burning hot
while the piercing cold strikes you in the back. An owl is
hooting in the darkness, the yapping of a fox is heard.
Huddled at a fire and gazing thoughtfully at the dying,
flickering embers, sat a hungry, wounded and mortally
weary man, alone in this vast, dense forest; and before
him, in the darkness, lay an unknown road, full of un-
expected dangers and trials.
"Never mind, everything will be all right!" the man
suddenly exclaimed, and by the light of the last red
flicker of the fire one could have seen his cracked lips
stretch in a smile at some remote thought.